On a hot summer day, there are few family-friendly hikes in the Canadian Rockies quite as refreshing as the Allstones Creek hike in Alberta’s David Thompson Country.
The sun was beating down when we parked the car just past the causeway that passes over Allstones Creek and reluctantly exited the air-conditioned vehicle. It didn’t take long for our kids to get excited though. The hike begins with a walk through an 80-metre long culvert that runs right under the highway and to quote one of our teens, “It was seriously cool.”
The Allstones Creek hike is just over 2 km one way, but as you wander up the gorge there is incredible geology and spectacular scenery to enjoy. A six-metre waterfall is at the end of the hike and our kids stripped down to their skivvies and drenched themselves in its cold rushing waters — a perfect way to spend a hot afternoon.
David Thompson Country has some fabulous family-friendly hikes that are often overlooked by travellers in favour of better-known trails in Banff and Jasper. Situated west of Rocky Mountain House and about 30-minutes east of Banff National Park in what is known as the Bighorn Wildland, the region is less crowded than the nearby national park and closer to the Icefields Parkway than any other camping area.
Highlights of David Thompson Country
In addition to the Allstones Creek hike described above, there are several other fantastic family-friendly hikes and destinations to visit in David Thompson Country.
• Allstones Lake: The 13-km return hike to Allstones Lake has a 660 metre elevation gain and takes our family about 4 hours roundtrip. It is very steep in spots and is considered a moderate hike. The reward at the top is a beautiful view of Allstones Lake, Abraham Lake and Mount Michener. Allstones Lake is stocked with Brook trout, so you can fish there with a license.
• Crescent Falls: Crescent Falls is an easy 6-km walk with an elevation gain of only 85 metres. There is a small waterfall about halfway along the trail, but stick to the main trail and you’ll discover stunning views of Crescent Falls and the Bighorn River Valley. There is a day-use area near the trail that makes an ideal spot to stop for a picnic lunch.
• Landslide Lake Interpretive Fire Trail: One of the newest trails in David Thompson Country, The Landslide Lake Interpretive Fire Trail was developed to educate visitors about the important role fires play in maintaining and enhancing the forested ecosystem. Built in a prescribed burn area near Landslide Lake, the trail has a short loop and a longer loop, both of which are relatively easy hikes for families with younger children.
• Hoodoo Creek: Fossil hounds won’t want to miss the Hoodoo Creek hike. The hike takes 3-4 hours return with an elevation gain of about 420 metres, but if you love finding fossils this is the place to be. It seems as if every other rock is laced with brachiopods or crinoids. Eventually you’ll come to Hoodoo Creek and two 30-metre hoodoos. If you scramble up the canyon, you can stand in the entrance of a large cave.
• Fish Lake: Nothing says “Canadian Wilderness” better than the call of a loon and Fish Lake has a healthy population of loons. There are some nice little hiking trails around the lake and a campground with a limited number of sites with hookups for RVs. The lake is great for canoeing, kayaking and fly fishing.
• Abraham Lake: Abraham Lake is a huge artificial lake on the North Saskatchewan River. It is 32 km long and has a beautiful milky blue colour thanks to glacial runoff. The lake has become internationally renowned amongst nature photographers for a phenomenon called frozen bubbles. In winter, the plants on the lakebed produce methane gas, which rise as bubbles and stacks and then freezes under the surface of the lake.
Nordegg Coal Mine National Historic Site
The Nordegg Coal Mine National Historic Site is the largest historic industrial site in North America and you can learn about the history of coal mining and the development of Alberta by visiting the site. The Brazeau Collieries Minesite produced more than 10 million tons of coal between 1911 and 1955 and the Town of Nordegg was built to be a forward-thinking community for those who worked at the mine.
The mines and the community were renowned for their use of innovative technology and a tour of the site helps you understand what life was like in a busy coal community in the early to mid-1900’s. The industrial site is largely intact, so you can see where the miner’s hung up their gear and where they processed the coal and loaded the briquettes into rail cars. The actual mine-site is blocked off, so you cannot enter the mine
If You Go:
• A good resource for hiking in this part of the province is the guide book: “Hiking Alberta’s David Thompson Country” by Pat Kariel and Eric Schneider.
• There are several campgrounds in David Thompson Country, but if camping isn’t really your thing, book a stay at the rustic David Thompson Resort (www.davidthompsonresort.com) or at Aurum Lodge (www.aurumlodge.com), an upscale eco-tourism B&B.
• Tours of the Nordegg Coal Mine National Historic Site take place twice daily – at 10 am and 2 pm from May to September. You can book in advance by calling 403-721-COAL or just show up at the appropriate time. The tour covers one half of the site in the morning and the other in the afternoon – it is the largest historic industrial site in North America. For more information, visit: http://www.pc.gc.ca/docs/r/ab/sites/nordegg.aspx.
• f you are touring the mine site, be sure to stop at the Miner’s Café inside the visitor’s centre. The café is noted for serving a wide variety of delicious pies.
Debbie Olsen is a Lacombe-based freelance writer. If you have a travel story you would like to share or know someone with an interesting travel story that we might interview, please email: DOGO@telusplanet.net or write to: Debbie Olsen, c/o Red Deer Advocate, 2950 Bremner Ave., Red Deer, Alta., T4R 1M9.